“Direct conversation” with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine may help Moscow find a solution to the ongoing war, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. Mr. Modi spoke with the Russian leader after a similar conversation with Mr. Zelensky when he conveyed Indian concerns on the evacuation of the students stranded in the Ukrainian city of Sumy.
“Prime Minister Modi welcomed the ongoing negotiations between Russia and Ukraine and expressed hope that they would lead to a cessation of the conflict. He suggested that a direct conversation between President Putin and President Zelensky may greatly assist the ongoing peace efforts,” a press statement issued by the government said.
Russia and Ukraine held three rounds of inconclusive talks in Belarus with the latest round held on Monday evening. Mr. Zelensky has in recent days been more vocal in seeking a direct conversation with President Putin.
India’s main concern over the last 11 days has been the welfare of its students in various medical universities in Ukraine. The Ministry of External Affairs on Monday said around 17,100 Indians have returned from various locations in Ukraine on board 83 flights under “Operation Ganga” but at least 500 more students remain in Sumy near the Russian border.
A window for evacuation emerged on Monday with Russia declaring a humanitarian corridor for Sumy and other cities but the evacuation could not be carried out as the local ceasefire failed and the students had to return to their hostels because of safety issues.
Over the last several days, the students have reached out to the Indian and international media seeking help and India had urged Ukraine and Russia to declare local ceasefire to ensure safe evacuation of the remaining students.
During Monday’s dialogue, President Putin said Ukrainian ‘nationalists’ are blocking evacuation of civilians from combat areas. The Russian leader assured that those Indian students stuck in Sumy will be evacuated by the Russian military. India is yet to confirm if it would be willing to receive direct Russian military help on the Ukrainian territory to transport its nationals.
In the backdrop of the high–power telephone conversations, India evacuated 205 students via Poland in a C17 aircraft of the Indian Air Force which landed at the Hindan airbase. The passengers included Harjot Singh, a student who was injured in a shooting incident in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv recently.
Earlier, in a morning phone call, Mr. Modi expressed “deep concern” about the situation in Ukraine. This was the second phone call between the two leaders since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. President Zelensky thanked India for supporting the Ukrainian people with humanitarian assistance.
“President Zelensky briefed the Prime Minister in detail about the conflict situation and the ongoing negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. The Prime Minister expressed deep concern about the ongoing conflict and resultant humanitarian crisis. The Prime Minister reiterated his call for immediate cessation of violence and noted that India has always stood for peaceful resolution of issues and direct dialogue between the two parties,” said the government in a press release issued after the conversation.
Mr. Modi thanked President Zelensky for facilitating evacuation of the stranded Indian students from Ukraine.
"He expressed deep concern for the safety and security of Indian students still remaining in Ukraine and emphasised the need for their quick and safe evacuation," the press release said.
Following the phone call, Mr. Zelensky said on social media he is “grateful for the support to the Ukrainian people”.
“Informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about countering Russian aggression. India appreciates the assistance to its citizens during the war and commitment to direct peaceful dialogue at the highest level,” said Mr. Zelensky.